Saturday, August 2, 2008

An Appreciation from Howard Green


Hi Everyone:
Now that Cirrus is "in the barn" for the 2008 Pacific Cup, I would like to add some remarks to Ulli's cirrus2008.blogspot.com that I only now have had the chance to read.

From my point of view as a racing skipper, Bill's 2008 effort was truly remarkable. The team members themselves were remarkable and the way the team worked together at critical moments was also remarkable. We started on a beautiful (for San Francisco) afternoon at 1:30 with moderate winds and almost no seas, and an ebb tide. Cirrus is equipped with a good Dacron main and a 125% Dacron roller furling jib that was enough to keep her competitive in these wind conditions. With Bill on the helm, we were under the bridge and out in almost no time. With two extra tacks along the north point then gone.

Ulli's “Cirrugator” computer program told us go south and we did...while a good part of the fleet continued tacking up the north coast toward the Farrallon Islands. Once we were on route, Bill's watch plan went into effect. It was a great plan. Each shift was four hours. Two people were on shift at all times. Every person worked four hours on and eight off...three of us, Larry, George and I were experienced race skippers, and Bill sometimes referred to us as "the A team". (But be assured, the other crew members were equally valuable with their contributions.) My shift was six to ten, morning and night, followed by Larry ten to two, and George two to six. Paired with the three of us were the other three: Chris, who had done two deliveries on Cirrus as Navigator and Communications expert, Ulli, with his huge additional responsibilities as navigation, tactician and communications officer and Bill, who had the responsibility for everything else on the boat. There were no shift captains...Bill was ever present or available. Bill wanted each person to get an even amount of helm time, except in crisis situations. Although for navigational matters Bill is a great navigator in his own right, he deferred to Ulli and his “Cirrugator” computer program at nearly every step in order to give the program a chance to prove its value. And prove it we did.
For sail trim matters Bill mostly deferred to the "A team" group on matters of helm sailing angles and sail trim. None of us was ever "in charge" but over and over, experience from each of us bubbled to the top and found its way into the nuances of the boat's sail trim and sailing strategy, and the boat was fast nearly all the time. Where there were conflicts between Ulli's program and the opinion of the sailing people the Skipper’s job was to work with everyone to get the best result.

There are many items of special equipment on Cirrus not usually found on a racing boat, and actually, not often found on cruising boats either. They each provided a measure of safety or security not ordinarily found on boats...and allowed things to be done with fewer hands. Things took longer to do, and were more cumbersome...but it was rare that we had the sort of equipment screw ups as are common on short distance race boats where the speed of maneuvers is often critical. On Cirrus, the boat is set up to achieve the long distance safety and security of the crew the boat and the equipment...no race can be won with a spinnaker that is blown.
Because of the way all the special equipment worked, Bill was the lead foredeck person. As racing sailors know...we greatly value our foredeck people, but skippers do not often venture onto the foredeck. If there was one staffing shortcoming of our crew it was that many of us are in our sixties and seventies...not the material we usually look to for the extraordinary challenges of foredeck work. When the spinnaker was going up and down, I was often on helm, and we had Bill at 72 together with Larry at 74 and George at 64 up on the foredeck. For you guys who have sailed a long time and never seen Larry and George on the foredeck before...it was a sight to behold. They always got the job done, but because of the special equipment it sometimes took a little longer.

For the spinnaker they would first secure the pole in position using a pole after guy (as opposed to the separate spinnaker after guy) as well as topping lift and fore guy. Then the spinnaker was raised inside a sock, the sock would then be hoisted and at the same time the spinnaker after guy and sheet would be brought in. The sock stays at the top of the mast until time to douse. At dousing, the boat heads down, the spinnaker guy is released, the sock is brought down, then the spinnaker is brought down and the pole is brought down. From the helm perspective the goal was keep the foredeck as flat and steady a working environment as possible, while all this is going on so that the guys can stay aboard and get their work done. So you stay steady at about 140 degrees apparent wind until the sock was hoisted and then go deep downwind, which is often a little unsteady and insecure, long enough to hide the sock from the wind behind the mainsail, and then to raise the sock and fill the spinnaker. It works and it never twists, but it did take quite a while to do it this way. So we had a few jokes about the geriatric guys up on the foredeck and the time it took. We accused them of forgetting what to do and so stopping to have tea or take a nap...but we actually knew it was an all out effort up there.

Our first near disaster happened early on when the port spinnaker halyard parted in the middle of the night and the spinnaker just began floating down into the ocean. It was blowing like stink. It was George's shift with Chris between two and four a.m., but I was up with them because I thought it would be good to have three people on board at night when the spinnaker was up. Luckily, George was on the helm. I knew from past experience that if the chute got to the water and it filled while we were going along, it would rip it to shreds. "Slow the boat down, head to weather." I told him. Meantime I figured that the best thing to do was to send the foredeck crew up to get the chute in. Then it dawned on me, only available fore deck crew was me. So I moved my safety clip, went foreword and started pulling the chute out of the water and inside the lifelines on deck as it was falling. George and Chris tightened the sheet to keep the foot out of the water. We managed to pull it aboard before it filled with water and with no damage to anything, something I’ve never actually seen achieved before on any other boat. Then we got the jib out and were sailing with little delay. In the morning we could see that the spinnaker halyard had jammed and the wire frayed at the top all in one place, and it was still in place in the mast. But we had no young buck to send up the mast...so we had only the starboard spinnaker halyard to finish the next 1600 miles...and we took extraordinary steps to avoid wear on that halyard. We put the spinnaker back up and were off and running.

After the first time we took the spinnaker down for the night it became clear that, even though it was prudent, if we were going to be in the race, we were going to have to carry it at night. So we extended everyone's night time shift two hours so there would always be three on deck at night...and it worked, but after only a day of this everyone was a little too tired. The middle of the race is a long sail...many days we had enough wind and the boat was challenged and we were cruising along with average speeds in the high sevens and low eights. Other days the speed averages dropped to as low as 5.9 with everything working.

Now about Ulli's computer program: The program does what it is supposed to do and does it well. It told us the most desirable route by comparing weather predictions for the next week with our boat's polars (These are speed predictions at various points of sail at every different level of wind.) and then telling us the route which the computer found to be the fastest through the predicted wind conditions, for our boat. The program kept us in wind, told us generally where it would be best to be, and we went there. It kept us out of trouble and sailing fast. The limitations of the program in practice are that the weather actually varies from predictions, and as wind speeds and direction vary, the exact direction the boat should sail will also vary. One big problem with the weather forecasts is that on a sailboat, the difference between 8 and 14 knots wind is big deal...and the direction a boat should sail to get the best results varies greatly...but even what is regarded as an accurate weather forecast often varies by that much or more. So while the general routing plan might work, the actual sailing courses can change.

Some comments on my fellow crew members:
George was an always happy jovial helmsman and crew member. He was also one of the best intuitive down wind helmsmen I have ever met, and clearly the best on Cirrus. Watching George helm in a squall was like watching a great artist at work. Rarely was the helm in need of large adjustments...and the boat stayed always under control. Even if you are not an experienced sailor you can appreciate that when a helmsman is sailing down wind, the forces that can come to play in causing the boat to go one way or another can overwhelm the ability of the rudder to steer the boat. So a helmsman is not really just steering a boat, but using the direction of the boat in the wind and the waves to keep all the forces affecting the boat in balance so the boat can keep traveling in the fastest possible direction. A truly good helmsman doesn't react to forces on a boat but anticipates and adjusts for them before they begin to affect the boat. Adjustments made, when timely are small and appear almost casual... Larry's first Pacific crossing occurred in the 1950's. His range of experience in racing has been vast, and his counsel always was even tempered and thought out. If anything had ever happened to Bill I am sure Larry would have been everyone's choice to become the captain. He also is an excellent helmsman.
For myself…sail shape, boat speed, performance...is a never ending quest. Almost a religion. George once asked me if I sleep with my GPS. It was a joke for him, but he laughed even more when he realized that, yes, of course I do. It works below deck. I was always watching the boat's performance, and was up on deck to help tweak things when it seemed slow. Larry and George had sailed together before...and as we all got to know and respect each other more, it was interesting to see each of us consulting more with the others about best sailing adjustments of the rig. On the last day we got trapped in a hole behind a mammoth squall that blew itself out and just parked in the ocean, leaving us in a permanent dead zone. It was George's shift, but I got Larry to take the helm and I babied the spinnaker on the rail for two hours till puff by puff we worked our way out of it. Chris was the least experienced in competitive sailing, but he was always looking for things that needed to be done, and cheerfully doing them, mostly before anyone else even realized they needed to be done. Chris became our main cook, a job at which he is clearly talented. Not to take away from Chris's sailing capabilities. He was on shift with Larry and George and had hours of instruction and practice in downwind helmsmanship. He is a smart natural sailor so he learned what he learned well. He will be a great asset to any boat. Ulli has sailed mostly in the past on Cirrus. As a helmsman on Cirrus he was quite experienced and very fast. His computer program “Cirrugator” will also be a great contribution to sail racing if he ever makes it available to sailors generally. Ulli's disciplined attention to detail in communication and navigation kept us organized and on track. Captain Bill...Cirrus is not just a good boat...it is a fitting, evolved expression of Bill's years of thoughtful experience in ocean crossings and ocean racing. His boom brake should be required equipment on ocean crossings. Bill has said that, “On this trip, Cirrus was better sailed that it has ever been sailed before.” Larry, George and I take a lot of pride in making that happen for Bill. But anyone who wants a challenge in life ought to think about trying to keep three captains who are used to making all the decisions on their own boats working together with each other and the rest of the crew and the navigator all in good spirit and cooperation...Bill's patience and social skills...well, incredible. This isn't to take away from his sailing skills. Once during an early morning squall, I clocked Bill's top speed as a helmsman at 13.9 knots, right up with the best from the A team, and a speed which any knowledgeable sailor will tell you is near impossible from a 40 foot 1970's racing design weighing 22,000 before crew and provisions.

There were two afternoon race incidents that deserve review: Twice the boat rounded up in strong winds and shortly thereafter saw its spinnaker guy come free from the pole. In the first incident, as the spinnaker was moving back and forth across the boat, the boat actually also rounded down, and did an unintended gibe. The solution to all this was amazing. First off, Bill's Boom brake functioned as designed, so that the boom made a controlled unintended gibe which did not damage anything. We flew the spinnaker free for a few moments on the lazy sheet. Bill was forward in a flash and reattached the pole guy as crew members in the cockpit --- I think George, Chris and Larry --- adjusted the lines to help Bill accomplish the work. Critical to this was the extra pole guy that kept the pole completely under control, even when the spinnaker guy had jumped out of the pole. Quickly the spinnaker was brought back under control. No damage, no injuries. No ripped spinnaker. Amazing. On a second occasion, the same thing happened, but as soon as the guy came loose, Ulli told George “You take the helm.” and George did and the boat remained under control as Bill, Larry and Ulli went forward and pulled the sock down then dowsed the spinnaker. Again...no damage...no injuries...no torn sail.
It is hard to overstate how unusual it would be that with the incidents I have recited, on a sail with plenty of strong wind, except for one broken halyard, the boat sustained no damage to equipment or sails. Incredibly good, well thought out equipment, and experienced sailors working together with a great Captain.

So I thought everyone might like to hear one crew member's observations about some of the boat and crew dynamics that helped us do as well in this race as it was possible for Cirrus to do.

Howard Green

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading your comments. Thank you for taking the time to write! - Jan

Chris Doutre said...

Dear Howard,

What a beautiful piece of writing. Thank you for sitting down and taking the time to tell our story so well. But I think you understated how difficult it was to get the spinnaker aboard after the halyard parted. As I remember, you were on the port foredeck pulling in the bottom half of the sail, over the lifelines, while I was on the side deck by the cockpit pulling in the top half, over the lifelines. Remember, this sail has a sock attached to its head and that sock was dragging behind the boat and rapidly filling with water. We were walking that line between pulling hard enough to get the sail in and pulling so hard that we would rip it. While 1.5 ounce spinnaker cloth is incredibly strong for its weight, like all things mechanical, it probably has a limit. So I agree with you that it was a miracle that we got the sail aboard without damaging it. It was another great example of our teamwork, but it sure wasn't easy.